Despite promise, "Life After Beth" can't decide its course

By Genevieve Valentine
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Aug. 20, 2014

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Kiss of death: Dane DeHaan (left) and Aubrey Plaza in "Life After Beth."

There’s a moment in Life After Beth that encapsulates its promise: The teenage Zach (Dane DeHaan), having found peace with girfriend Beth’s (Aubrey Plaza) return from the dead as soon as she suggested sex, fights her parents to take her out. They don’t want her to be seen, he doesn’t want to keep her death a secret, and undead Beth just really, really wants to go hiking. But despite solid performances, it’s a tonal jumble—he’s in a sex comedy, she’s in an unsettling drama, and her parents are in an indie about loss. Here and as a whole, the pieces of Life After Beth don’t come together.

Jeff Baena’s first feature has moments of dark humor—turns out smooth jazz can calm the undead, leading to tense faceoffs scored with elevator music. But for a brisk 90 minutes, Life After Beth feels overstretched. Is Beth just too much of a good thing, a cautionary symbol? (Despite Plaza’s intensity, she’s never allowed to be much more than that.) Is it a quiet zombie drama on a small scale, framed with family grief? (The supporting cast feels underutilized, but nails what they get.) Is it a satire of end-of-relationship dramas, complete with a too-convenient new ingenue (Anna Kendrick) just when you need her most? The answer’s yes, and no, often simultaneously, which could be fantastic, but gets lost in the middle.

World War Z, Shaun of the Dead, Les Revenants and its remake The Returned, Warm Bodies, In the Flesh, The Walking Dead—you can’t throw a stone nowadays without hitting an empty grave, and to do a zombie flick means knowing what you want to bring to the party. Life After Beth can’t wrangle its handful of potential concepts, so it ends up working hard without ending up quite anywhere.

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